In the final semester of my senior year in high school, Ms. Keller replaced Mr. Potter as our American government teacher. She was full of new ideas, one of which she explained on her first day of class. “People are more important than books and tests.” She interrupted our applause to add, “That doesn’t mean we won’t use books and have tests, but it does mean that I want everyone to get to know each other as individual human beings right from the beginning.”
For our first assignment we had to present ourselves to the class in a creative way. “Open yourselves up to us,” she said sitting atop her desk. “Let us know what’s really important to you and your life.”
Great, I thought. One of the important things in my life had just dumped me—said she couldn’t date me anymore—and she was the last thing I wanted to talk about right then. She was a Mormon, and for reasons I didn’t yet understand, she let her religion come between us to end what I thought was a beautiful relationship.
Anyway, after racking my brains for several days, I finally decided on a presentation I was sure would impress Ms. Keller.
On the day our presentations were due, I showed up to class carrying a large grocery sack. In it was one shoe of every kind that I owned. When it was my turn, I set my unpaired shoes on the table in front of the class and, ignoring the odor jokes from my buddies in the front row, began to explain how my various shoes represented, not only me, but also what was important to me.
Lined up across the table like a row of used cars were one of my football shoes, a basketball shoe, a track shoe, a running shoe, a shoe I played racquetball in, a house slipper, a shoe I wore to school and when I hung out with friends, and, last of all, a shiny but slightly dusty wingtip, a shoe that I wore to church—when I went. I talked about sports, home and family, friends, school, and church and explained why they were important parts of my life.
The next student, Jimmy, set two books on the table, a long rectangular one and a paperback. “This is my Book of Remembrance,” he said holding up the long one. “It’s a record of me and the important events in my life.” He flipped it open and showed us photos, charts, and certificates, stopping every once in a while to explain one and why it was significant.
Finally he set it down and picked up the paperback. “This is the Book of Mormon,” he said. “The way I live my life, the things I believe, and the things I hope for—they’re all based on this book.”
“Oh no,” I thought as I slid down in my chair, “a goody-goody Mormon. These guys are so corny.”
Jimmy spoke for a few more minutes, finally ending with a catch in his voice, “… and I know it’s true. I know it’s true.” He paused for a moment to gulp down his emotion. “And I’m glad I know.” As I watched him walk back to his desk, I noticed that a few students around me were teary eyed.
I didn’t know for sure, but I guessed they were Mormons too. The few times my old girlfriend had dragged me to her church, I noticed that Mormons liked to say they knew this and knew that and that they often got teary eyed when they talked religion. Normally I would have shrugged off a presentation like Jimmy’s as cornball religious stuff, but that day, for some reason, it didn’t seem so corny. Instead, it made me curious. Why could they say they knew their church was true when at best all I could say about mine was that I believed in it?
I watched them after class talking quietly together on their way out the door. How can they know? I wondered. How can they?
A month or two later, I was up in my bedroom, alone, not particularly troubled or unhappy, but thoughtful. In the top drawer of my desk lay a paperback copy of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, a parting gift from my former Mormon girlfriend.
Thinking of her, and recalling Jimmy’s presentation and other conversations I’d had with LDS kids, I pulled the book out and began reading. Maybe it would help me understand why they could talk about knowing their church was true.
The opening pages contained Joseph Smith’s story of his first vision, and as I read it, it struck me that this man, or boy, or whoever he was, was telling the truth. While I experienced no blaring trumpets or burning bosoms or bright lights or heavenly messengers, his story was quite simple and plain and logical to me. I set the book down on my desk and felt a surge of quiet confidence, a feeling I now recognize as the Holy Ghost, confirm what I had just read.
Such sudden and sure knowledge startled me because I realized that if Joseph Smith’s story was true, the church he founded must also be true. As I pondered my newly discovered testimony, I knew that I’d have to do something about it, though I wasn’t sure what. I decided that tomorrow I’d give my former girlfriend a call and tell her I knew what she and her friends knew and ask her if she had any ideas what I should do next.
Well, she had plenty of ideas, and the busy weeks of missionary discussions, fasting, and prayer that followed only served to confirm what I had first realized after reading Joseph Smith’s story one spring afternoon in my bedroom: It’s true. I know it!